"BEING GRATEFUL IN CAMBODIA"
By Liz Hannigan and Cliff Crain
in January of 2006 after 6 weeks in Asia
On January 3, 2006, we flew to Siem Reap in Cambodia.
This is a raw country with amazing people. We wanted to see Angkor Wat, one of the “Seven World Wonders” in many
books. During our visit we saw the wonders of these ancient ruins, and much, much more.
you have seen, and very likely been impressed and stunned with Angkor Wat; it is hard to imagine "bigger and better".
On our first morning, we got up at 5:00 am to see the sun rise over the temples, and it was absolutely amazing.
Angkor Wat is the Cambodians' pride. It is on their flag, on their beer, on their stamps… on their
everything; and we can see why. It's just about impossible to describe these great ruins. It must cover more than a square
mile. It is awesomely huge and beautiful, with many other amazing temples and ruins surrounding it. Totally surrounded by
an immense mote, Angkor Wat it is multi- leveled. There are many secret and intricate images carved into the massive stonewalls.
It's simply overwhelming in the best since of the word, and the grounds it stands on are equally impressive.
The fourteen million people of Cambodia have been through a brutal time under the Khmer Rouge Party (see or read “The
Killing Fields” for an insight into their recent history). Over 1 Million people were killed in the most horrible fashion
during the protracted socio-political war. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to relocate, and educated people were
slaughtered. Some war-crimes trials are still in process.
During the war period, thousands
of landmines were planted and many are still there and active. The tour books advise tourists not to get off public trails.
We saw many invalids with missing limbs. Many of them beg in the streets to support themselves. There is tremendous poverty
in this country. Forty percent of the population today is under the age of 15. Many find that they must drop out of school
to support their families. It's heart breaking to see literally hordes of the younger ones begging in the streets. They look
at you in such a desperate way. Many of these lost children are carrying a baby while they beg, shoeless, in filthy clothes.
It was a difficult challenge for us not to give to every single one. In the beginning, we did give to them; but as soon as
you do, there are 10 more. We are talking about an apparently unending stream of beautiful children (and others) reaching
out their hands for help. The effect on the soul is staggering. Often the children are sent begging by their parents. By giving
you help that child in some small way, and yet, you also encourage them to keep doing what they are doing.
There are beleaguered, under-manned and under-funded social workers trying to help by offering other opportunities. What we
chose to do after a while is give generously to the ones that did work. Buying hand-made beaded bracelets we would never wear,
and hand-sown purses that we would never carry seemed better than encouraging begging as a life-style.
One example of what we found out about life in Cambodia is in the story of “Mark” (not his real name, but one
that tourists seemed capable of articulating). Mark was our driver for three of the days we were there. Mark is middle-child
in a family of five children. At the age of three, his parents took him from the farm and placed him with other children in
a government-funded child-care “orphanage” because they did not have enough rice for the entire family. He grew
up there, away from his family. He is 28 years old now, single, and has reunited emotionally with his family. Since he is
single he feels responsible to send money to his two younger brothers who are now going to school (one is in high school,
and the other is in a university). He never finished high school, as there was no money. He has tried to educate himself,
learning how to drive a car and to speak some English. He now drives a taxi that he rents. He works long hours seven days
a week and studies English in the evening when he is not too exhausted. His goal is to take a class that will allow him to
be a tourist guide “officially” in the future.
He feels, like many others we spoke
to, that since he is single he has an obligation to support and give to those who are less well off than he is, even though
he himself has no medical coverage, has no money for social engagements, and lives in a shared, rented room.
It is a very Buddhist attitude that one cannot reach enlightenment until EVERY BODY does. His job and life-practice is being
kind to all people. He believes this and lives it daily in a very simple and practical way. We asked him about his brothers.
When they finish their studies will they give back to him? He shrugged when he heard this and in some ways seemed to not understand
the question. It was not important. He finally said, "We will see about that then. Today is today. We will see about
tomorrow later. I don't count on it. If they give me I say thank you, if they don't, they don't."
We were, and still are, impressed with this young man's life practice. It reminded me of the Dali Lama's response when someone
asked him to explain his religious practice. He said, "My religion is simple. My religion is KINDNESS.”
So Cambodia was much more than touristy explorations of ancient ruins. We found that we learned so much
about others, about life; and of course, about ourselves.
A few years ago we moved out of our
condo and into a larger house to give us space to care for an aging parent. We used to laugh about living in a "mansion.”
Now we are not laughing and, as we reflect upon the “homes” in Cambodia, we say, " We live in a "palace.”
Unless you have traveled extensively in third-world countries, living close to the people and not just finding that 5-star
hotel outside of town, you might well be very surprised about what millions of Cambodian people call "home.”
This whole thing about inequalities has us still "stirred" and we are sure it will for
some time, especially since I know that the USA uses 60 % to 70% of the world's fuel resources and obviously not ALL people
can live like we are privileged to live. We often find ourselves saying “God bless ALL the people.” We can never
whole-heartedly support the "God bless America” expression. It just seems too exclusive and demeaning to most people.
Don't get us wrong. We love our country and want the people in America to be blessed… just let us not leave out the
rest of the world ! With pain, poverty, and terror in abundance, it is time for us to look beyond borders and recognize ourselves
as “world citizens” who can be grateful for being born in America.
Be well my friends.
May you find peace and joy within this very day.
May all being everywhere find peace and joy within this very
A PRACTICAL IDEA FOR PARENTS:
We cannot expect children to be grateful “naturally.”
As parents we can, and should, teach and model being grateful. In our home we had a practice of sitting down before dinner
and having each family member share something he or she liked, or was grateful for, that very day! At first we had to help
our young children, but after a while, they became very good at having an attitude of gratitude!!
MINDFULNESS and CHILDREN : RESOURCES
#1 Fox & Kirschner, Too
Stressed to Think ... Free Spirit, 2005
#2 Grego & Hays, Acceptance and Mindfulness... New Harbinger,
Even if I knew
the world would go to pieces,
Mindfulness mantra :
I calm my body.
Breathing out ...
I am in the
Breathing out ...
this is a
___ ___ ___
___ ___ ___
For your personal journey,
you might want
check out one of these books:
by Thich Nhat Hanh
and / or
Wherever You Go
There You Are
by Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Center for Creative Living
proudly supports the three websites listed below:
This site can be reached at ...
"Mindfulness is the miracle by which
we can call back our dispersed mind
and restore it to wholeness so that we
live each minute of life."
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
A DAILY PRAYER OF THANKS:
As we give thanks for our food,
we remember those who are hungry.
As we give thanks for our homes,
we remember those who are homeless.
As we give thanks for our friends,
we remember those who are lonely.
As we give thanks for our freedom,
we remember those
who are not free.
these remembrances inspire us to service.
Center for Creative
Living199 East Linda Mesa,
Suite 4Danville, California
94526Phone: (925) 855-1745 Fax: (925) 829-9426email: email@example.com___________________________________
Serving Alamo, Concord, Dublin,
Pleasanton, Pleasant Hill, San Ramon,
Walnut Creek and the entire Bay Area since 1994
Cowardice asks the question - is it safe?
asks - is it politic?
Vanity asks - is it popular?
But conscience asks the question - is it right?
And there comes a time when one
must take a position that is
neither safe, nor politic,
one must take it because it is right.
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.